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Overwhelmed by the bounty

Marilyn Gleason
Marilyn Gleason
Staff Photo |

Earlier this spring, I lamented in these pages the prospect of a fruitless summer after successive freezes rolled in like waves to the seashore. I mourned the buds with blackened pistils hanging on the cherry, apple and apricot trees that adorn Colby Farm.

It looked to me like death by a thousand freezes. Boy, was I wrong.

This morning Ed informed me he’d just thrown the rest of the cherries I picked last week to the chickens. He transferred the quarter-bushel I harvested yesterday to a plastic tub and put it in the outside refrigerator.

As usual, I was crestfallen. I’d meant to make pies and cherry jam with those lovely sour cherries. I prepped a double batch of pie crust last week. I felt like reaching after those tossed cherries.

Ever since I arrived at Colby Farm, Ed has tried to inculcate me with the idea that it’s impossible to keep up with the harvest. “You have to let it go. You just can’t use it all. You have to throw some of it away.”

We have five or six dainty pie cherry trees, and this year bundles of fruit weigh down their twiggy branches. Where are all the birds that usually hammer away at the crop?

The fruit was so thick that I picked for an hour in one section of one tree, and when I stepped back I couldn’t even tell I’d been working it over.

No one seems to love the sour cherries, but I do. Two weeks ago Ed brought 2 pounds of them to the New Castle Community Market where we sell honey, and no one even looked at them twice. You can’t give them away.

As a child, my favorite food was cherry pie. I prevailed on my parents to plant a cherry tree outside our house in the ponderosa pine foothills outside Boulder. I remember my wonder and excitement at the magic of that tree. We had no irrigation. It died almost immediately.

I saw my neighbors at the market, selling the beautiful laminated cutting boards in animal shapes they make in their garage. Their garden puts mine to shame with its wild proliferation. They dry and can and put food by with industry. Their three children are eager little farmers with their own garden plots.

When we have an apple crop, they pick bushels of them to dry and make apple sauce. “We have loads of cherries,” I said to Jennifer. “They’re at their peak. I’ll give you a tree to pick.”

She looked dubious as she thanked me. Then she admitted they’d picked cherries from a tree down the street in town. “The kids spent so much time pitting all those cherries, they don’t want any more.”

Ed and I love the sour cherries on our cereal in the morning. We keep some in the refrigerator and pit a dozen or so on the spot. Shredded wheat drizzled with our own honey and topped with walnuts and pumpkin seeds, raw milk from down the road, and some tart cherries — it’s the breakfast of champions.

When you have a garden or an orchard, each fruit and vegetable ripens at a particular time and all at once. Suddenly you are buried and overwhelmed.

I muse upon the rugged pioneers who built the irrigation ditches and planted Western Colorado with peach orchards and lettuce patches for export by train, as well as their own kitchens. They didn’t commute by bus or car to Aspen to sell real estate or wait tables. They had the need and the time to pit and can all those cherries. Only the bird-pecked ones were thrown to the chickens.

It’s surprising how much food a little garden can produce, and how many apricots grow on a single tree.

Any serious discussion about localizing the economy and food production tries to factor in carrying capacity, or our ability to produce the essentials for a given population. Do we vastly underestimate how much food we could grow in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys? If most households had a kitchen garden, if we canned and preserved, if we bartered and traded our yield at local markets, could we sustain ourselves? I’m beginning to believe it’s possible.

I baked a rhubarb pie for Ed’s birthday at the solstice. It’s his favorite. We’ve savored a few cherry-rhubarb pies so far, and will slather cherry-rhubarb jam on our toast this winter. Turnip and beet greens make tasty and nutritious sides dishes for July dinners.

I plant quick-growing French radishes together with carrot seeds, then pull the radishes to make room for the carrots to grow. We’re trying to remember to eat them with every meal. This morning Ed dropped a couple of radishes next to my computer with a cup of coffee.

Over lunch, he suggested, “We could have a radish-eating contest.”

Marilyn Gleason keeps it local on her Peach Valley farm and writes periodically for the Good Taste pages. Send your responses and ideas to her at mg.news2@yahoo.com with the subject line “food.”


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